The proposal is a 17-mile, multiuse trail between Cortez and Mancos, stopping at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds, Phil’s World, Mesa Verde National Park and other locations along the way. In January, the project made Gov. John Hickenlooper’s “16 in 16” list of highest-priority trail ideas across the state.
At the meeting, local officials and consultants explained the project and took questions about the trail. People were invited to submit written comments, and could identify places on a map where they thought the trail route should or should not go.
County planner James Dietrich, who is one of the project leaders, said the project has been in the works for years. While it’s gained momentum over the past year, it’s still in the beginning stages, he said.
“It’s a neat idea ... but it’s not a slam dunk,” Dietrich said. “It will be a tough project.”
No route has been identified for the trail, he said. The goal of the meeting was to gain public input so that officials can start identifying routes that might work. Lead project consultant Peter Loris said they hope to have at least five feasible trail routes, and then pick the best one that will be easiest to complete.
Officials have identified three main segments of the trail. The first is from Cortez to the county fairgrounds, the second from the fairgrounds to the national park entrance, and the third from the national park to Mancos. Loris said they hope to start construction on one of those segments by summer 2018.
There will be another public meeting in Cortez at the end of January. The key stakeholders for the project will be the town of Mancos, city of Cortez, Montezuma County, the Bureau of Land Management, Mesa Verde National Park and the state of Colorado, as well as private landowners, Dietrich said.
Though there are areas of public land in various places along the trail corridor, they are not all connected. The trail will have to cross private land if it is to be connected all the way from Cortez to Mancos. Planners would prefer it not go through the right-of-way along U.S. Highway 160, Loris said.
Kathryn Fulton, a Mancos resident who is working on the project, said officials do not plan to use eminent domain or condemnation of private property.
“If a property owner doesn’t want it near their property, we will leave you alone,” she said.
The trail surface likely would be 10 feet wide, and an easement would need to be a minimum of 20-25 feet, Loris said. It also would need to be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities act, but Loris said there are some gravel surfaces that meet that requirement.
One resident at the meeting asked if a cost-benefit analysis was planned to determine how the area might benefit economically from the project. Dietrich said there was not one planned, but that they would consider one in the future. Another resident asked if fencing would be provided if a landowner desired it, and Loris said it would be.
Other people at the meeting said there were too many different groups involved and no one was taking the lead on the project. Dietrich said Montezuma County would be the main entity in charge of the project moving forward.
Loris said his firm was honored and excited to be selected for the project. He said he has assembled a good team that is up to the task.
“It’s going to be great for the community,” Loris said. “It will give lots of recreational and tourist opportunities.”